Nashoba Looks at Risky Behaviors… May 13, 2015

By Ann Needle  
Last Wednesday’s (May 6) Nashoba School Committee meeting was primarily devoted to looking at risky behavior among local teens, measured by results from Emerson Hospital’s latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey. These results offered some good news, but also pointed to several crucial areas calling for attention.

Presented by Nashoba Interim Health, Guidance & Wellness Coordinator Donna Linstrom and Nashoba Regional High School Senior Emma Caviness of Stow, the survey is conducted by Emerson every 2 years, most recently in March 2014. It covered students in grades 6 through 12 from Nashoba and surrounding districts, with a total of 7,026 surveyed. Nashoba has participated in the last two surveys.

Looking at the district’s results — a total of 1,396 students participating — Linstrom remarked, “The vast majority actually shows a decrease in many of these risky behaviors [since 2012], and that’s a positive.” As examples, she pointed to a drop over the last 2 years in students reporting they smoke cigarettes.

And, in what Linstrom called particularly good news, the number of NRHS students claiming they have been offered, sold, or given illegal drugs on school property during the past year dropped from 23 percent to about 14 percent between 2012 and 2014. This could be due in part to administration’s recently stepped-up efforts to keep drugs out of the high school through such measures as canine drug searches and the hiring of two school resource officers from the Bolton Police Dept., she added.

While some elements of drug use are down, the data shows there is still alcohol and drug use reported.

Linstrom highlighted several areas the district may want to address — particularly alcohol use. Students in grades 10 and 11 reporting they had a drink in the past month was 31 percent and 38 percent, respectively. These percentages were actually higher than those for grades 10 and 11 in other districts Emerson surveyed.

More Nashoba students in grades 10 through 12 reported ever using marijuana than those in other districts. Caviness commented that Nashoba’s marijuana use soared from 11% to 48% between grades 9 and 12.

The Stress Factor
One particularly concerning statistic to come out of the survey is that 5 percent of Nashoba sixth graders said they have seriously considered committing suicide in the past year, said Linstrom. Given that this percent has climbed throughout high school, she maintained that waiting until later in the middle school years to discuss the issue with students may be too late.

Emma Caviness observed that stress could be triggering an increase in many risky behaviors the survey covered. About 60% of NRHS students said they experienced at least some stress in the previous year from academic workload, which was about on par with other local high schoolers.

“I totally can relate to these statistics, and it’s definitely a root cause to some of these other behaviors,” Caviness said. She also remarked, “Just because we may be similar to the aggregate [total of other districts surveyed] does not make it okay.

“I think most people like to go to bed at least in the same day as they woke up that morning,” she wryly remarked of the survey results on sleep. “I think this is the first year in high school where I’ve averaged [at least] 7 hours a night.”

Linstrom agreed that, between the stress of academics and events at school and home, “We are afraid that it may lead to other things.”

Caviness and Linstrom both noted stress levels and risky behavior seem to peak junior year, a time when the college search ramps up. For example, Caviness observed that the percentage of students who said they had an alcoholic drink (outside of religious reasons) in the past 12 months more than doubled between grades 9 and 11. She suggested freshman year may be the best time for the district to address potential stress and risky behaviors.

Linstrom explained she is pulling together a committee aimed at gathering ideas to combat these behaviors and reduce stress. Caviness currently acts as student liaison with the high school, with Stow’s Anthony Tata taking over next year, Linstrom noted.

The Emerson Youth Risk Behavior Survey also covers such topics as bullying, driving safety, exercise and diet, and dating and sexual behavior. It is posted at http://www.nrsd.net, click on School Committee, then Meeting Packets, then May 6.

Elsewhere on the School Committee agenda, Superintendent Michael Wood reported that Nashoba is evaluating two finalists to replace Center School Principal Kevin LaCoste, who has accepted a principal’s job in Westford as of July 1.

SC Chair Nancy Federspiel of Bolton explained that Wood’s annual evaluation by SC members is finished, but she was not able to distribute copies of results to members in time for a meeting discussion. A look at the NRSD Teacher & Staff Climate Survey also was postponed so that SC members have more time to review results.

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